Film Fest: Wild Things

Nope, not more news about Blackfish.

But I wanted to take note of this documentary about the obscure Wildlife Service department of USDA, which every year kills 100,000 coyotes, bobcats, foxes, wolves, bears, and mountain lions. Two of the methods favored: baits traps containing spring-loaded poison cartridges, which shoot sodium cyanide into an animal’s mouth, and shooting animals from aircraft.

It’s not exactly what you would call living in harmony with the natural world.

OnEarth explains:

“It’s blatant killing,” former Wildlife Services employee Gary Strader says in the film, explaining the mindset of the agency where he used to work. “It’s just flying around — there’s a coyote, let’s kill it. There’s a coyote, let’s kill it. Let’s kill it, let’s kill it. You know, it’s just every coyote they see, they’re gonna kill it.”

And that’s just what the agency does on purpose. A Sacramento Beeinvestigation last year found that Wildlife Services has also accidentally killed more than 50,000 animals since 2000, including bald eagles, endangered wolverines, family dogs, and several species considered threatened or imperiled by wildlife biologists. And 10 plane crew members have died in crashes since 1989 during aerial gunning operations, including two in 2007, the Bee reports.

What’s the point of all this death and destruction? The Department of Agriculture says it’s spending about $30 million a year to protect commercial livestock from coyotes, wolves, and other predators. (It’s harder to argue with some of Wildlife Services’ other roles, like controlling rabies and removing geese from airport runways — although some people object to lethal measures there, as well.) The economic case for killing predators to protect livestock is pretty shaky, though. A 2001 Governmental Accountability Office report could find no independent studies of the costs and benefits associated with Wildlife Services, and it urged the agency to develop more nonlethal means of protecting livestock, including wildlife contraceptives and scare devices triggered by motion sensors.

The scientific argument for lethal control is even worse. As the Bee reports, a growing body of scientific research has found that by killing predators in such large numbers, Wildlife Services is “altering ecosystems in ways that diminish biodiversity, degrade habitat, and invite disease.”

More info here.

U.S. Navy Proposes “Taking” 33 Million Marine Mammals

This is stunning, and a perfect example of how the inertia of stale priorities–especially Cold War-era national security priorities–can take us down some disastrous roads.

From a New York Times editorial:

Between 2014 and 2019, the United States Navy hopes to conduct testing and training exercises in the Atlantic and the Pacific that will involve sonars and explosives of many different kinds.

Over the years, the Navy has been forced to acknowledge what science has clearly demonstrated: noise generated by sonar and underwater detonations can kill marine mammals, like whales and porpoises, and disturb their normal feeding, breeding and migration. In preparing for its upcoming exercises, the Navy has asked the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval to “take” a number of marine mammals — “take” being the broad term for everything from killing these creatures to disturbing their habits.

This all sounds as it should be, with the Navy requesting permission from the agency, as required by various laws protecting marine mammals and endangered species. But the numbers say something else. In its testing areas in the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, the Navy estimates that between 2014 and 2019 it will “take” nearly 33 million marine mammals — everything from blue whales to elephant seals.

Most of these creatures will be disturbed in some way but not injured or killed. But the damage could still be considerable. Sound travels much faster through water than it does through air, magnifying its impact, and many of the sounds the Navy plans to generate fall in the frequencies most damaging to marine mammals. More than five million of them may suffer ruptured eardrums and temporary hearing loss, in turn disrupting normal behavioral patterns. As many as 1,800 may be killed outright, either by testing or by ship strikes.

So we’ve got whales versus sonar and naval training. That’s a trade-off that needs a much closer look, as the New York Times urges.

The Power Of Video Is Turned On BP’s Tony Hayward

If you had any doubts about the mismatch between BP CEO Tony Hayward‘s words and the reality of what is going on in the Gulf Of Mexico, the NRDC has made this video to set you straight. Sure, it uses pictures, music and words to crucify the guy. But doesn’t he, along with BP, deserve it?

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